There is a tense conflict right now between the Ukraine and Russia, and the whole world has taken notice. People everywhere take time out of their day to check news updates and see if war is really brewing. Such a tumultuous affair would distract a fighter, and especially a Russian fighter, right?

“No, not really. I’m concentrated on my fight and do not let anything disturb me,” Bellator middleweight champion Alexander Shlemenko, who grew up in Omsk, Russia, told The MMA Corner through his manager and translator, Alexei Zhernakov.

Shlemenko (R) (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Shlemenko (R) (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

While it’s understandable that Shlemenko would want to put forward a face of intensity and purpose, who knows how much these distractions in his homeland really affect him. It certainly didn’t hold the champion back from dismantling top contender Brennan Ward back in late March at Bellator 114. He has a job in front of him, and that takes the utmost priority. It’s just who the guy is.

Shlemenko, while intense, does not get what you would call “fired up.” He does not really show anger towards his opponent and, likewise, he rarely if ever gives them a smile. His all-business, get-in-and-get-out approach begs comparison to a Russian fighter who had a similar mechanical approach to his competition—Fedor Emelianenko. Yes, I know, I know, the hardcore fans among us would scoff at the idea of comparing the 29-year-old Shlemenko to the legend that is Fedor. But like the most famous MMA fighter to come out of Russia, Shlemenko has proven not only to be durable, but also to be a vicious finisher.

The Bellator middleweight kingpin has quietly—or not so quietly, if you’re a fan of Bellator—put together a 12-fight winning streak over the past three years. His only loss since November 2009 is thanks to current UFC welterweight contender Hector Lombard, who stood as Bellator’s middleweight champion when the two met. This is not to say that Shlemenko is as good as the Pride heavyweight superstar, Emelianenko, or that he will be that good, but he certainly could. If he continues to dominate the middleweight division as he’s done of late, even if it’s in Bellator, there would be no denying that he’s one of the best middleweights in history.

Nevertheless, this conversation can be had if and when this point in time comes. While I was off on that tangent about Russian MMA, Shlemenko was continuing to stay focused on his next opponent, Tito Ortiz.

The former UFC light heavyweight champion would certainly be a great name to add to Shlemenko’s list of victims. Would most consider this current version of Ortiz washed up? Yeah, probably. Does Tito really need to keep fighting? No, not really. However, that doesn’t mean that Shlemenko is overlooking his opponent, who will be much larger than him on fight night.

“It’s a big challenge for me because this fight will take place at the 205[-pound] weight category,” said Shlemenko. “It’s a big honor for me to fight Tito because I’ve been following his career for many years.

“It’s challenging for me because he obviously has a size and weight advantage.”

Obvious, indeed. The champion, who has been regarded as a smaller-sized middleweight will be taking on an Ortiz whose weight may be 215 to 225 pounds on fight night. If Ortiz can wrap his paws around the Russian’s waist, you’d have to think that Shlemenko would have more than a tough time creating separation.

Shlemenko (L) (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Shlemenko (L) (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

However, that does not mean that Ortiz holds all the advantages.

“I think that I have a speed advantage, and I think I have a stamina advantage over him,” explained Shlemenko.

Ortiz has been known to have an incredible gas tank, but if you watched Shlemenko vs. Brett Cooper II, then you know that the Russian has cardio and heart to match.

Shlemenko and Ortiz had a stare down during the Bellator 116 broadcast to promote their match-up for the Bellator 120 pay-per-view. Although the face-to-face was certainly intense, Shlemenko was quick to note that he has no quarrel with Ortiz.

“I don’t have any personal problems with Tito Ortiz,” he said. “However, anybody—it doesn’t matter who it is—anybody who’s going to fight me, when he’s standing across from me in the cage, is my enemy, and I must beat him.”

Many wondered if this fight would actually happen, let alone if Ortiz would compete against anyone ever again. The former UFC star has had a history of injuries, as well as personal problems outside the cage. Nevertheless, less than a week out from Bellator’s inaugural pay-per-view event, it looks as if this is actually going to happen.

Shlemenko plans to capitalize on this opportunity by making a ruthless statement. A loss for Ortiz could very well mean the last time we see him compete. The Bellator middleweight champ doesn’t seem to care if he’s the one who finally retires Ortiz.

“My goal is to finish him—to beat him up and to finish him. I don’t set up any other goals,” Shlemenko admitted.

The fight will be the third bout of the pay-per-view event. The headlining affair was originally supposed to be a fight between lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez and Michael Chandler, but it will now be a title eliminator between another former UFC light heavyweight champion, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, and former Strikeforce champ Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal. The change came to light on Saturday, when it was reported that Alvarez suffered a concussion during training camp and would not be ready for a title defense. Chandler will now fight Will Brooks for an interim title in the co-headlining bout of the evening.

Regardless, Shlemenko still thinks that the card is worth the money if you’re a fight fan.

“It’s a fantastic card, and I think that Bellator did a great job forming this card for this event,” said Shlemenko. “If I were a fan, and if I had a chance to buy the pay-per-view, I’d do it for sure because all the fights on the pay-per-view are very, very interesting.”

Alexander would like to thank everyone who supports him and all his Russian fans. Follow Shlemenko on Twitter: @StormShlemenko

About The Author

Zach Miller
Staff Writer

Zach is a Boston native and has had a fascination with martial arts since playing Mortal Kombat at five years old. He was introduced to MMA after watching The Ultimate Fighter 5: Team Pulver vs. Team Penn. A recent graduate of the University of New Hampshire, Zach seeks to one day become a full-time MMA journalist. In addition to watching the sport, he has also trained in Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu, kickboxing, and tae kwon do. Zach has also written for NortheastMMA.